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Obama Criticizes Congress After Background Check Bill Fails


From Boston now to the White House, where President Obama reacted angrily tonight to the failure of an effort in the Senate to expand background checks for gun purchases. The amendment, proposed by Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey, got only 54 votes - six short of the necessary 60. President Obama spoke in the White House Rose Garden. He called this a pretty shameful day for Washington.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ninety percent of the American people support universal background checks that make it harder for a dangerous person to buy a gun. We're talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with a severe mental illness. Ninety percent of Americans support that idea. Most Americans think that's already the law.

BLOCK: NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now for more on what the president said. And, Ari, it sounds like a defiant President Obama speaking there in the Rose Garden.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Absolutely. He said this is just round one. In fact, that message was bolstered by the first man to speak, Mark Barden, who lost his son at Sandy Hook - was surrounded by several Sandy Hook family members as well as Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot in the head in Tucson. Mark Barden said we go home disappointed by not defeated. He added, we are not going away. And President Obama really reiterated that sentiment, accusing a vocal minority of obstructing the will of the American people. And he accused a minority in Congress of distorting congressional rules in order to get their way. That's a reference, of course, to the filibuster that requires 60 votes to get this over the hurdle.

BLOCK: I also heard him accuse some on the gun rights side of willfully lying during this debate.

SHAPIRO: Yes. He did not mince words at all. He said the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill, claiming that it would create some sort of Big Brother gun registry, even though the bill actually prohibited that. And he said the lies worked, because they upset a minority of gun owners, which intimidated a lot of senators.

BLOCK: Ari, you mentioned the families of shooting victims and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who were at the president's side for these remarks. And there was quite a bit of emotion at the Rose Garden as he spoke.

SHAPIRO: That's right. Vice President Biden looked as though he was on the verge of tears. Remember that these families had spent most of the last week in Washington lobbying senators. And many of them were sitting there in the chamber as members were casting their votes. One senator, Rand Paul, accused President Obama as using the family members as props. And the president responded to that very angrily today.

OBAMA: I've heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced. A prop, somebody called them. Emotional blackmail, some outlets said. Are they serious?

SHAPIRO: And he basically just expressed extreme frustration with Washington, suggesting that if people want Washington to change they're going to have to send new people in to represent them.

BLOCK: Well, when the president says this is just round one, what does he mean? I mean, is there a new effort that's going to come from the White House to get these measures passed?

SHAPIRO: There is no obvious immediate next step for these measures. Big picture, I think the question is whether the Sandy Hook shooting victims' families can maintain the kind of focused lobbying presence that they've had for the last couple months. Because that same lobbying presence on the other side is really what ultimately drove this bill to defeat.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro at the White House. Ari, thank you.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.